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L.A. City Council votes to allow demolition of Jewish and labor movement landmark

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Friday to allow the demolition of a 100-year-old building in the Westlake neighborhood that served as a Jewish landmark and later as a center for labor organizing in the city.

The vote was a victory for Catholic Charities, which purchased the building, historically known as B'nai B'rith Lodge, in 2018 but later described it as “significantly dilapidated and structurally unfit.” “It is in good health,” he said, and could pose a threat to the safety of the surrounding area.

Catholic Charities, a nonprofit affiliated with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, filed a lawsuit against the city in 2023, alleging it was unfairly denied a permit to demolish the ornate 1924 building.

The group said in court documents that the South Union Avenue site “may be historic” and is subject to additional review, and that any future projects on the site must comply with the law. The city said it would not allow the building to be demolished because it would not be possible to do so. California Environmental Quality Act.

Community preservationists and advocates argued that potential demolition would be a blow to Los Angeles' important history. Instead, they urged Catholic Charities to restore and use the building.

The Rev. Dylan Littlefield, pastor of the Cecil Hotel, who is part of the preservation campaign, said the lodge's demolition would mean the destruction of a place that stood as “a testament to the resilience and diversity of the city of Los Angeles.” ”

Esotourik, a travel company that advocates for historic preservation and public policy, told the Times before the settlement vote was announced that the public should be given an opportunity to comment. The company argued that this lawsuit and any future settlements could amount to a “land-use decision regarding the right to destroy cultural resources.”

The city attorney's office declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

B'nai B'rith Lodge was designed by Samuel Tilden Norton, a famous Jewish architect who also designed the Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

The building was built in the early 1920s as the home of the LA chapter of B'nai B'rith, a Jewish service organization with roots in New York. At the time, B'nai B'rith members felt “a real desire to be accepted by city leaders,” said Stephen Luftman, a cultural heritage conservation consultant.

“They felt that if they built a meeting hall grand enough, it would be a step towards being recognized as part of the community,” he said in an application to designate the lodge as a historical and cultural monument. Luftmann, who wrote the book, said:

The building served as a hub for the Jewish LA community for several years before being sold to the Washi Friends in 1930. It was then briefly used as a clubhouse for the Safeway Employees Association. Before becoming the headquarters of the American Federation of Labor Teamsters Joint Council 42.

Luftman said it was the site of rapid growth for the labor movement and where the Teamsters elected their first black official, John T. Williams.

“The AFL Teamsters building was the heart of the Los Angeles labor movement and home to many of the union organizations that turned Los Angeles into a metropolitan powerhouse,” said Chris Griswold, Teamsters Joint Council 42 President. Ta.

B'nai B'rith International said in a statement that the lodge “represents an important part of our organization's history in Los Angeles.”

“No matter how this issue is resolved, it will be important to the history of Los Angeles Jews to document that B'nai B'rith met there,” the statement said.

Catholic Charities and the archdiocese respect the building's history and “have been in contact with both the Jewish community and labor leaders throughout this process,” the religious groups said in a joint statement. “Our concern has always been the safety of the aging property and the well-being of the neighboring community.”

In its lawsuit, Catholic Charities said there were no projects planned for the site and stressed that its intent was simply to demolish the lodge.

“Catholic Charities continues to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in maintenance and security costs for its vacant, dilapidated and unstable building,” court documents state. “These funds are being diverted from critical programs that support disadvantaged communities.”

The organizations say they will “work with local communities and city council offices to ultimately provide services that align with Catholic Charities' mission, including community feeding services, emergency shelters, transitional housing for youth, and before and after school care.” We hope to find a use for the land.” , and services for the elderly. ”

Mr Littlefield, the Cecil Hotel's pastor, said Catholic Charities' rationale was “nothing more than an excuse to justify their desire to demolish the building.”

“The building itself can be a place of empowerment,” Littlefield said. “The building itself can become a place where more movements like this takeoff can happen, where more great things can happen and more lives can be saved and changed.”

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